Week 8: Be Whose Hero, Again?Gotta keep it relatively short this week, I'm afraid.
It's interesting that J.G. Jones' 52 cover blog over at Wizard mentions that this week's cover is inspired by WPA posters--the design made me think "Russian Constructivist" right away. (The big hammer John Henry is holding added to that impression.) Once again, it's a lovely cover--the background in the right half suggests the Trylon and Perisphere--and once again, there's a continuity error with the interior of the comic: where's John Henry's facial hair?
The slogan for Luthor's program, catchy enough that it's on the cover too, is "Be Your Own Hero." It's a trickier line than it looks like--not "be a hero," but "be your own hero." The nine million or so Google hits for "be your own," other than the ones about Be Your Own Pet, are mostly about ways in which it's possible to serve oneself--and "heroism" requires service to somebody else. (Even if it's meant in the sense of "idol": you can't be the person you yourself look up to!)
Still, there's a subtext of self-reliance to "be your own" anything, and self-reliance is pretty clearly what John Henry's trying to inspire in Natasha, whether she likes it or not. (I've said this before, but the version of Natasha that Christopher Priest wrote in his run on Steel was one of my favorite comics characters ever. But I liked her a lot better when she was a too-clever-for-her-own-good teenage girl her uncle was trying to keep out of normal teenage-girl trouble, rather than an irritable wannabe superhero.)
The flip side of self-reliance, though, is claiming what doesn't belong to you--hence the "Thief" title--which a bunch of characters are doing. (Nat with her powers; the two characters in the deli dustup; Supernova, as far as Booster's concerned, with Booster's reputation as the new Superman; Luthor with the lives of his "slaves," including both John Henry and Natasha.)
And self-reliance, taken to extremes, can also mean not being able, or willing, to rely on anyone else. "What can one man do?" Green Arrow asks. As a few other people have already pointed out, that question was already asked--although not by him--in this classic issue, in which Ollie decided to run for mayor--a story that was Elliot S! Maggin's first comics story, written as a college term paper. (The Absorbascon covered that episode here, including Ollie asking Bruce Wayne about his experience being a Senator in this issue.) (Hey, Barbara Gordon was elected to the House of Representatives for a term, too! But that was later.)
Anyway, "What Can One Man Do?" That was the classic one. Not So Classic, pt. 1: this issue, in which Ollie decides that actually he doesn't want to run for mayor after all. Not So Classic, pt. 2: this issue, in which Ollie finds the answer to the initial question--title of Green Arrow story: "One Man Can Cry." Actually, he can write an opinion column in the local paper. And cry.
Speaking of Green Arrow, Neal Adams covers, World's Finest, and absent facial hair, Wizard's 52 Roundup made a good call this week bringing up this issue, which sure seems like it might have inspired the Supernova plot (and relates nicely to this week's normal-or-superpowered theme).
The one thing that rings false about all of this is the "unlock the metagene" plot. Of DC's major characters, which ones are humans who somehow became meta-types (rather than relying on training, armor, Miraclo pills, etc.) and still are? I count the Flash, Black Lightning, Plastic Man, Firestorm, the Ray, and not too many others. "Induce mutation" would work if this were Marvel, but it's not...
I like Grant Morrison's suggestion in Seven Soldiers that you become a superhero not by getting powers one way or another, but by leaping beyond your cultural context, which is what all the Soldiers do (and none of them, except arguably Zatanna and maaaybe Bulleteer, are "superheroes" in the traditional sense). I hope Morrison carries that idea over to 52 as well; to get back to the Marxism suggested by the constructivist cover, thinking of "powers" as the same thing as "being a superhero" is just a kind of false consciousness.
Oh, and then there's the backup, which I will continue to smack around as long as it fails to improve. I think my big problem with the History of the DCU, besides the fact that it's unreadable and tedious, is that it adheres to the Big Event theory of DCU history. This issue we get The Final Night, No Man's Land, Graduation Day, War Games... and the sense that every other story about these characters is just so much ignorable fluff, a way to keep the franchise going between crossovers. Which is exactly the attitude that makes them meaningless: most of the old comics that resonated enough for 52 to refer to them were able to be something special because their creators knew they didn't count for less than any other comic published that month.
Pg. 2: WLII is, of course, Roman numerals for W52. Of course.
Pg. 3: Has Eddy Barrows spent much time around babies? That's not a 12-pack of diapers the guy's got there. If it were about a third bigger, it could even be a 52-pack.
Pg. 4: Very much in character for Ollie. I see Ralph has shaved again since last week, or maybe he donated some of his extra facial hair to John Henry.
Pg. 6: Ollie has, of course, come back from the dead at least once (Kevin Smith etc.) and maybe twice (he sure didn't seem to be in good shape right before Superboy punched the universe)--but, as Hal Jordan knew, if Ollie could bring anyone back from the dead, it'd probably be the sniper he accidentally killed in this issue. Also, it looks like the Conner cultists have the same kind of tube Tim Drake's been messing with in Teen Titans...
Pg. 8: Apparently I was right about how John Henry got infected, not that it was that hard to figure out.
Pg. 12: Okay, that's doing a little better on the lorem-ipsum front--at least we've got one sentence that's sort of relevant to the story, even if it's not quite in newspaper style. And repeated several times.
Pg. 13: Doesn't Kala Avasti have any kind of medical-ethics-type smarts? Doctors don't generally disclose test results to anyone other than the patient--wouldn't she just have said "could you tell him to call me as soon as he gets in?" Come to think of it, doesn't John Henry have a cell phone?
Pg. 14: And if Natasha's such a super-genius, wouldn't she be bright enough to wear protective gear as well as a mask to weld, and perhaps even pull her hair back?
Pg. 16: It seems Adam has finally gotten around to shaving sometime in the last week. It also seems he's regrown a left eye, if the fourth panel isn't some kind of horrible art/coloring/editing error. And if he is still blind (as appears to be the case from the fact that Buddy's carrying him), what's he doing wearing his jet-pack? That thing's got to be heavy.
Pg. 18: Luthor's aside to Mercy Graves seems a little out of character for him--as the entertaining Lex Luthor: Man of Steel miniseries pointed out, Lex thinks of himself as always being in the right. If there's anyone in this issue who's his own hero--in the sense of being a hero to himself--Lex is the one.